You’re not ageist, are you? In fact you don’t approve of ageism. You know some lovely old people. Naturally, you will never be old, you are ageless or young at heart. You’ve got nothing against old people per se, just that they are all so <derogatory adjective>.
If you make ageist remarks, it’s not intentional. Now what?
The British Centre for Ageing Better has put out a terrific Guide to talking about ageing and older age that we can download for free. Short and sweet and easy to read. This is not about institutional ageism or cultural ageism, but about the ageism that lurks unnoticed inside our own minds. Yes, it’s largely a product of the endemic ageism of our society—which pops out in the words we use, the things we say. And so unconsciously, we reinforce society’s ageism. As the title declares, the Guide to talking about ageing and older age suggests what we personally can do as individuals. It’s about familiar words and phrases that we use without thinking, and what they imply. In general terms they advise:
- Shift associations with frailty, vulnerability and dependency
- Use preferred terminology
- Avoid “othering” and compassionate ageism
- Don’t stoke conflict between generations
- Think carefully about imagery
Words have power. Sure, they reflect and communicate our own thinking. But if they’re ageist words, they reinforce an ageist attitude of which we are very likely unaware.
Ageism is fear of your future self
The most bizarre thing about ageism is that it springs from a fear of yourself. Fear—or disgust, or anger, or dislike. Your previous self, who has been aging from day one. Your current self, who is different from yourself ten years ago. Your future self, who will either die young or become old.
Here, all the talk about loving oneself crashes down. How about loving your future self? Hard, when we cannot imagine being ten years older. Harder still, when we subconsciously categorise old people as not-us.
I had a burning-bush revelation myself a few years ago, suddenly realising that I harboured two unpleasant and contradictory attitudes towards aging. I called them Smugilla and Glumia. Both “othered” old people, seeing them as a breed apart—although I was 75 at the time! Awareness was all, and I honestly believe that I’ve banished those two nasty little voices for good. I only hope they didn’t burrow into your brain instead. Here’s my poem about discovering my inner ageists.
Ageism without within
I found ageism rampaging in my neighbourhood in job descriptions and prescriptions in jokes and compliments and ads on every screen, in tips and fads on videos and TV shows on greeting cards, in camouflage and tiny acts of sabotage. I found it looming over me on billboards big and bald. (The assumptions, the assumptions dooming youth to aspirations dooming age to loss and pain.) And then I met the advocates of ageism within— Glumia of the sorrows and Smugilla that nasty bitch — using my mouth to speak their nonsense sniping and sneering and whining and mocking the other, the alien old from a podium under my skin. ~ rachel mcalpine in How To Be Old
Resources for quietly monitoring hidden ageism
Guide to talking about ageing and older age from the Centre for Ageing BetterFollow Write Into Life